Did you know that there are an estimated one million people infected with a curable sexually transmitted disease (STD) every single day? According to the World Health Organization (WHO) women infected with chlamydia is around 4.2% of the worldwide population, in men it’s 2.7%. So that’s approximately 294 million women and 189 million men worldwide that have a completely treatable and curable STD. An STD that can lead to serious complications (click here to read the WHO report).
What is an STD?
A STD is a sexually transmitted disease (frequently called a ‘sexually transmitted infection’ or ‘STI’ as well). This means it is something that is primarily passed from person to person through some form of sexual contact. However, this is not restricted to penetrative sex, many diseases can be transmitted by oral sexual or skin to genital contact. Most STD’s are treatable and curable, however some have few symptoms, if any, and may go undetected until they become life threatening or develop complications.
What is Chlamydia?
Chlamydia (official name: Chlamydia trachomatis) is a common sexually transmitted disease caused bacteria. It is spread through sexual contact – penetrative sex, oral sex or can even infect your eyes if you touch them with your hands that have infected semen or vaginal fluid on them.
What are the symptoms for Chlamydia?
One of the reasons that this infection is so common is that there are often no symptoms. If there are symptoms they may not occur until days or weeks after getting infected, which also means that if you had other sexual partners during this time, they have a very high chance of being infected also.
Symptoms in women may include a vaginal discharge or burning when you pee, pain during sex, pain in the lower abdomen. Unfortunately, these symptoms are similar to common (but non-sexually transmitted) thrush or urinary tract infections and women will often attempt to treat with at home or over the counter treatments.
In men symptoms may also include a discharge (from the penis), burning when you pee, or pain and swelling in the testicles.
It is also possible for either men or woman to have a rectal infection. You do not need to have anal sex to develop an infected rectum; vaginal fluid or semen that is carrying the Chlamydia bacteria only needs to come into contact with the anus to run the risk of causing infection. As with vaginal and penial infections, there may be no symptoms at all, however if you have rectal pain, discharge or bleeding from your anus should get tested immediately.
How do I find out if I have Chlamydia?
Because there may be no symptoms if you have had unprotected sex or exposure to potentially infected sexual fluid the only way to know if you have Chlamydia is to get tested. It is a very simple, painless, test but untreated it may cause serious complications.
You can go see your healthcare professional, who will take a urine sample or possibly a swab from the vagina, tip of penis, rectum or throat is needed.
If you are not able to see a healthcare professional for testing, you can order an at-home test kit. At home tests provide everything you need to take a urine sample or swab and give clear instructions on how to do so. Some test kits are then sent on to a lab to get results, other tests work like an at-home pregnancy test and are able to give an immediate result.
What is the treatment?
Once it has been confirmed that you have Chlamydia, you will need to be treated with antibiotics. The most common options are a single-dose of azithromycin or taking doxycycline for 7-14 days. During this time, it is usually recommended that you avoid sexual contact. It is also recommended that you advise any recent sexual partners that you have been infected as they will need to get tested also. After three months you should be tested again, as it is common to become re-infected, even if your partner was also treated.
What happens if I don’t treat my infection?
If Chlamydia goes undetected or untreated it may develop into serious problems, many of which are difficult to treat or cause permanent damage.
In women Chlamydia may develop into Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). This can cause pain and fever, as well as causing infertility and ectopic pregnancy (between 1980 and 2007, 876 women in America died because of ectopic pregnancies). It can cause inflammation of the cervix or inflammation of the fallopian tubes (which may require surgery to treat). If left untreated it may also create blocked and infected glands, causing cysts or abscesses on the labia and around the vagina. This can make it agonizing to walk, as well as making sex painful. New born babies may also develop the infection if a woman with Chlamydia gives birth vaginally.
In men it may develop into an infection called Epididymitis which can cause fever as well as pain and swelling in the scrotum. If it develops into an infected prostate gland you may have pain during sex, fever, chills, even lower back pain. In rare instances it may cause infertility in men also.
In any gender there is a risk of inflammation of the joints or conjunctivitis.
How can I prevent getting Chlamydia?
Although not having sexual contact will make it highly unlikely you will get Chlamydia, most people do not wish to become celibate, but taking simple precautions when having sex will make the risk of you catching the infection less likely.
Use condoms every time you have sex (or a dental dam for oral sex). If you are using sex toys you should also use a new condom and wash them after every use. Never attempt to reuse condoms. Regularly get tested for sexually transmitted diseases and try to limit the number of sexual partners you have.
You also need to be aware that although condoms also offer protection from pregnancy, other forms of contraception do NOT offer protection from sexually transmitted diseases. This includes the pill and other barrier methods such as diaphragms.